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FDNY looks into cause of church inferno as cleanup begins

Firefighters battle flames at the historic Serbian Orthodox

Firefighters battle flames at the historic Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava, Sunday, May 1, 2016, on West 25th Street in Manhattan. The church was constructed in the early 1850s and was designated a New York City landmark in 1968. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

City crews cleared debris from the burned hulk of a historic Flatiron church Monday, paving the way for fire marshals to search for the cause of the inferno, authorities said.

The smell of smoke still hung in the air around the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava, its roof a skeleton, its ornate woodwork now cinders and its golden artwork of the saints destroyed Sunday night after Easter services. Four firefighters and one civilian suffered minor injuries in an inferno that started before 6:50 p.m. and took three hours to control, authorities said.

Building inspectors on Monday determined that the cathedral was in no immediate danger of collapse, said Alexander Schnell, building department spokesman. They will continue to look out for areas of debris in danger of falling, he said.

The Gothic-style cathedral was designed in 1850.

Firefighters had a “watch line” at the scene Monday to ensure no hots spots reignited, a fire department spokesman said. Fire marshals were waiting for debris to be cleared before sifting through the wreckage for clues on the source of the fire, he said.

On its website, St. Sava asked for donations in a posting titled, “Our church has burned down!”

“As of 10:00 a.m. Monday morning . . . firefighters are still spraying the building with water,” the update said. “Police has sealed the area around the cathedral, and we don’t have access to it at the moment.”

Parishioners stopped by to survey the damage, including several who had been attending services there for decades.

Zoran Milojevic, 44, said the church served as a social meeting place for many Serbians throughout the city. Milojevic, a stock broker from Westchester County, said people would even use the church’s network to look for jobs.

“From cultural activities, to [an] artists place, to seeing a friend you haven’t seen in a while, to actually trying to find a job,” he said, adding the church was the hub. “It was also a networking place — everything for the people that were here second, third, fifth generation to the newcomers.”

Milojevic has attended the church for about 20 years and said his parents renewed their vows there, as well.

Upper West Side resident Alexander Doncov, 33, attended Easter services with his family Sunday morning. Doncov, who was married in the church about six years ago, found out what happened on his way home.

“It was really a cornerstone of Serbian immigrants who come here over the years. It was sort of a center of this society and it’s a shame to see what happened,” he said. “Thank God it didn’t happen during the service.”

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